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Durham Academy senior Faith Couch describes her school as a "multifaceted community," representing diversity in nearly every sense of the word. Even so, in such a tolerant environment, it's easy to avoid discussing certain issues of importance with people who are different from one another. So the Upper School Diversity Club has launched What Matters to Me, an initiative that encourages just those kinds of deep, sometimes controversial conversations on campus.
"The goal is to create a more inclusive and secure space," Couch explained. "By bringing up these topics and allowing people to see that people in our community have concerns or have topics that they want to share, we'll facilitate conversations that are hard for us to talk about sometimes in classrooms."
The first installment of What Matters to Me focused on the shooting death of Michael Brown, an African-American teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. Seniors Breanna Byrd, Brad Hodgin, Justin Warren and Couch kicked off the lunchtime gathering with a presentation on a range of issues related to Ferguson — from similarities in the case to events during the Civil Rights Movement, to the treatment of minorities in the news media.
While members of the Diversity Club had been percolating on an idea to host a student-led discussion series for some time, it wasn't until they attended the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC) in Indianapolis in December that they felt like they had the tools to do so successfully.
"SDLC helped us learn how to talk about these things when they are near and dear to your heart," Byrd said, noting that the community norms that the students discussed in the first What Matters to Me discussion were borrowed from SDLC:
- Be fully present.
- Speak from the "I" perspective.
- Be self-responsible and self-challenging.
- Listen, listen, listen, and process.
- Lean into discomfort.
- Experiment with new behaviors in order to expand your range of response.
- Take risks, be raggedy, make some mistakes – then let go.
- Accept conflict and its resolution as a necessary catalyst for learning.
- Be comfortable with silence.
- Be crisp; say what's core.
- Treat the candidness of others as a gift; honor confidentiality.
- Suspend judgment of yourself and of others.
The hope is that students and faculty outside the Diversity Club will be encouraged to lead discussions about topics that are of interest to them as well, Byrd said, noting interest expressed by the gender-focused HE for SHE and SHE for SHE clubs.
"It's really open for everyone in the entire school, not just the Diversity Club and not just students. And for people who aren't interested in presenting but just want to attend, they shouldn't feel like they have to say anything — they can just listen," Hodgin said.
"It's not just about race," Warren added. "It's any aspect of what matters to you."